Four myths of poverty

Poverty competency starts with understanding the difference between truth and myths.

There is a lack of understanding about the issue of poverty and about the people who live in poverty. Michigan State University Extension teaches that to be able to help people move out of poverty, we need to understand and address the facts. According to author Donna Beegle, from her book, See Poverty, Be the Difference there are four myths that need to be addressed in our quest to become poverty competent and be able to help move people out of poverty.

Myth 1. The first myth that needs to be addressed is that poverty is solely a minority issue. Poverty is often perceived as a race or ethnic issue. The truth is, 47 percent of people living in poverty in the United States are white. Poverty needs to be addressed and acknowledged as a human, society problem that cuts across racial/ethnic lines.

Myth 2. The second myth about poverty is that government assistance is adequate to the extent that it encourages independence. People living in poverty can’t get out of poverty by relying on government assistance. Nationally the average welfare check for one parent of two children in 2005 was $478 per month. Twenty years earlier, it was $408 per month. Some have a misinformed belief that people in poverty have babies to get more assistance money. The average increase after a birth of a child is about $60 per month.

Myth 3. The third myth is that social mobility is easy to achieve. Many people think that if someone works hard enough they can pull themselves out of poverty into another social status. Social mobility is portrayed as a real possibility for all those with a strong work ethic. There is more involved in social mobility than just having a strong work ethic. Many Americans living in poverty are working on average, 1.7 jobs. They have the work ethic, but are still impoverished.

Myth 4. The fourth myth on poverty is that education is readily available and accessible to all people. As stated earlier, there is more involved in moving out of poverty than having a strong work ethic. Having an education is another key factor that is needed. Beegle states that “role models and the disposition they create help provide access to education. People who live in poverty may have never identified with someone who benefited from education.” This is one reason the Headstart program is so important and needed. Some progress has been made in diminishing higher education barriers such as race, gender, geography and religion. Poverty is the one barrier that has not been overcome.

In order to understand and/or help people move out of poverty you must seek to understand each individual’s story and not accept the myths and stereotypes people place on others. Choose to see poverty in your communities and be willing to be the difference maker.

For more on this topic read Defining poverty.

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